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The Good And Bad Of John W Henry, Liverpool's Potential New Owner

 The Good And Bad Of John W Henry, Liverpool's Potential New Owner

So John W Henry, current owner of the Boston Red Sox, is about to take over Liverpool. Being a Florida Marlins fan, and a baseball fan in general, I’m very well aware of Mr. Henry’s history as a baseball owner, so here’s my opinion about what I think he will bring to the club, both the good and the bad.

The good:

  1. John W Henry cares about sports. Before buying the Marlins, he had made unsuccessful bids to purchase about a half-dozen clubs in several leagues before rescuing the Marlins from an uncaring Wayne Huizenga. Henry was looked upon as the savior of baseball in South Florida (more on that in a bit).
  2. Henry will do what it takes to either upgrade or replace Anfield. Most of his tenure in Miami was focused on getting a new stadium for the Marlins. And when he bought the Red Sox, he started renovating Fenway Park almost immediately upon taking ownership. Talk of replacing Fenway was dismissed rather loudly by the fans, so they upgraded the existing facility instead.
  3. Henry will bring in the best people he can find to run the football side of Liverpool, even if the choices are out of the box. He hired the youngest General Manager in the history of the league, and hired a well-known baseball writer whose claim to fail is looking at the game as an outsider and through scientific study. Did it work? Absolutely. Henry bought the club right before the 2002 season; in 2004 they were World Champs for the first time since 1918. They won again in 2007. Before Henry, baseball seemed to be the Yankees and everyone else; the Red Sox became equals almost immediately after Henry bought the club.
  4. Henry has a very fan-friendly approach to the stadium experience. His organization listened to the public and did what they could to make things better at the stadium. Attention will be paid to detail, money will be spent on comforts for the fans, and you can expect Anfield (or whatever a potential new ground will be called) will be changed for the better.

However, things didn’t exactly work out in Miami. The bad:

  1. When Henry came to Miami, the thought was he was so passionate about baseball, he couldn’t help but succeed. Unfortunately, he put all his eggs in one basket, that being a publicly-funded new stadium for the Marlins. When that didn’t happen, he basically got rid of all his best players on an annual basis, only getting prospects in return. If Liverpool’s finances are in jeopardy, you can expect Liverpool to be very active in the transfer market, and your favorite players might be wearing other shirts as soon as January.
  2. It cannot be underestimated how much of a disaster Henry was for the Marlins. Once it became clear that the Marlins were not getting their stadium, Henry was secretly looking for a way out. The League actually found one for him – he was going to sell the club and at the same time become the owner of the Boston Red Sox. Imagine selling West Brom and purchasing, well, Liverpool on the same day. It was a three-franchise transaction in which the League Office bought the Montreal Expos from Jeffrey Loria, who bought the Marlins from Henry, who used the proceeds as a portion of the funds to buy the Red Sox. The kicker was the league wanted to put a club in Washington DC. They were going to move either the Marlins or the Expos, but they were not going to let Loria have the Washington club, so they gave Loria a choice as to whether he wanted to keep the Expos in Montreal or keep the Marlins in Miami. He chose Miami, and not long after the Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals. Miami was that close from losing their baseball team.
  3. Henry burned quite a few bridges on the way out of Miami. He badmouthed the scouting system for bringing in “athletes” rather than “baseball players”, which turned out to be hilarious because 18 months after he left here the Marlins won the World Series. He made many promises, including saying he would build the stadium himself if no help was forthcoming, and broke most of them. I tend to root against the Red Sox because of Henry.

It’s my opinion that Henry will bring success to Liverpool, so long as the club is able to survive this current season. The conditions at Anfield will be much more similar to Boston than to Miami. Remember that the American version of “Fever Pitch” was based around the Red Sox (they had to change the ending because the Red Sox unexpectedly won the World Series while the film was being made), whereas Miami sports enthusiasm is pretty lackluster most of the time. If changes need to be made to improve the situation, he will make those changes. So long as he sees a bright future for the club, he will do everything he can to make that happen.

Of course, things don’t always work out the way you plan, and when things went wrong in Florida, he turned into Mike Ashley. But as a Newcastle United supporter, that’s a story for another day.

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20 Responses to The Good And Bad Of John W Henry, Liverpool's Potential New Owner

  1. Matt T. says:

    I believe it’s much harder to get public funding for these stadium proposals in Europe than over here in the States. Will Henry put up the cash or just put debt back on the club, again?

  2. jose says:

    i live in miami and it’s true. with the marlins he said he couldn’t finance a new stadium with his money cause not enough revenue and then out of left field (pardon my expression) he buys the red sox. i was like what!. the money he made from selling the marlins wasn’t enough to buy a storied franchise like the red sox. to make the long story short there is two sides from john henry, the marlins experience was bad but he did a great job with the red sox.

  3. Steven says:

    While the money made from selling the Marlins wasn’t enough to buy the Red Sox, the Red Sox make considerably more revenue due to their stadium, merchandising, and TV rights.

    I’m no Red Sox fan, but Henry has done a fantastic job of running the team. He’s very open-minded and gives the general manager/coaches almost autonomous control. Liverpool fans should be thrilled that he’s buying the club.

  4. LizM says:

    Yes, Henry is viewed in a different light in Miami than Boston. I like to think he made his mistakes in Miami, and will bring the goods to Liverpool. That might be unfounded optimism.

  5. Tony Butterworth says:

    Matt T has ht the nail on the head for me. Where is the money coming from ? Not Liverpool City Council that’s for sure.

  6. Matthew Reed says:

    The big difference and what was not mentioned by the Floridians is that Miami did/does not support the Marlins with attendance or tv ratings. This isnt a crime as Miami is an NFL town but the fan base wasnt there to generate revenue with, the Marlins are usually in the bottom 5 of attendance. Henry was not willing to take a personal loss to float the stadium or payroll.

    The Red Sox are a regional team in a baseball hungry area and they are usually toward the top of MLB attendance and their regional TV/radio deal is second only to the Yankees. There is sufficient revenue to support the owner’s initiatives in Boston.

    To me, the question for Liverpool is if their will be enough revenue to support the rebuilding of the club and yes, the team has to be rebuilt. I am not very knowledgeable about EPL financing as I am with American sports but my understanding is that there is not a local media deal for the team and gate receipts/champions league are the primary revenue streams outside the shared TV deal.

    Liverpool did not get a sugar daddy that will take a personal loss to bring in players, a new stadium or renovations. However, Liverpool is getting a responsible and progressive owner that will spend every dollar wisely to enhance the product. The only question I have is if Henry can do it without the “ready made” revenue stream that was built into the Red Sox when he bought that franchise.

  7. SantaClaus says:

    The bottom line is that if there isn’t the revenue stream coming from the club’s activities don’t expect Henry to put up his own money. Therein lies the problem for Liverpool as the present revenue isn’t enough to finance the team’s ambitions which means Henry will be borrowing heavily and that will be debt against the club. I’m sorry to say I don’t think there will be much difference in the way the financing is going to be done when Henry takes over to what is being done by Hicks and Gillete. Henry’s ownership style may be different but the financial problems which are tied to player transfers will remain.

    My biggest concern is whether Henry understands the soccer culture in England. Unless he talks and says what he plans to do it is too early to say if he will be good for Liverpool.

    • Clampdown says:

      So, the only option for LFC is to find a nice Middle Eastern, Russian, Chines, etc. sugar daddy, who through the goodness of his heart and will to win will pay for player transfers out of his own pocket until …. well, we don’t really know do we? Is that what LFC supporters want? Another dodgey billionaire to buy the club lots of new toys? And what happens when the current model, which everyone knows is not sustainable, is reined in by governing bodies?

    • Nando says:

      Liverpool is one of the highest earners in world football.

      There is plenty of money going into the club, its just that its all going into paying off the interest from the loans Hicks and Gillett took out to buy the club.

      So long as NESV use their own money to buy the club there will be a steady revenue stream to be able to improve the squad.

      The stadium well thats another story, there will obviously be debt there, but theyre looking at naming rights for the stadium and holding other events there which will obviously help with paying for it.

      Personally i think he will do a good job for LFC, but its not a short term project, it needs to be a mid to long term ownership IMO.

  8. Natalya says:

    Frankly, I’m skeptical of the new owner(s). I get a strong sense of Hicks/Gillette deja vu with the talk of “restoring our glory/place in English football”. Why does an american businessman with no ties to England buy a storied English football club in the first place if not as another vehicle for profit?

    Randy Lerner for all his flaws at least had a tie to Villa having attended university in England and watching Villa during his there there. But Henry?

    As others have said….does Henry and/or his compatriots even understand the football club, its traditions, and how this is no mere “franchise”?

    I’m not against them per se, but remain skeptical.

  9. JRock says:

    Can’t be worse than what’s going on at Anfield now.

    Good article.

    Go Magpies!

  10. Skrtl's Breakfast Nails says:

    Remember, Liverpool already have permission for the new stadium AND part of the deal to buy the club covers the financing option for the majority of the Stadium. If the Marlins bad experience was down to the fact that Henry couldn’t get the new stadium, that will not happen at Liverpool as everything is in place to start construction as soon as he takes over.

    Not saying it will happen, nor am i saying Henry will be a miracle worker but, if this is the main concern, I can’t help but feel slightly relieved.

  11. Skrtl's Breakfast Nails says:

    Oh, and, in terms of revenue streams, Liverpool are the most profitable club in the league globally. the reason why that doesn’t translate to spending on or off the pitch is because every penny we make currently goes towards interest payments on our loans. Once Hicks and Gillette are out, Liverpool will be totally solvent as the the Hicks/Gillette parent company “Kop Holdings” is the
    business laden with debt and not the club itself.

    Once the loans are taken care of, Henry should have a lot of cash coming his way in terms of Gate receipts, TV money, and one of the biggest football merchandising business in the entire world.

  12. Jay says:

    I don’t blame John Henry for the Marlins fiasco. Well, that isn’t true. I blame him for not doing his research before actually buying the team. It seems he was so keen to actually buy a team, that he jumped in without looking.

    Aside from a precious few, no one is a Marlins fan. Their attendance hovers near the bottom of the MLB. This year, in fact, they were third worst, with an average attendance of 18,825. The only teams worse than them were Cleveland and Oakland. To provide a bit of perspective, the Houston Astros were in the middle with 28k, and the Yankees in first with 46k. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who managed to loose 105 games this season drew more fans than the Marlins.

    More telling is that the Marlins averaged only 53% occupancy. Why build a new house when you are only using 50% of the space of the current house? This isn’t a case of not having the desire, it is a case of support just not being there for the team.

    All of the negatives you listed about Henry are more reflections on the South Florida sports fan then they are on Henry, and no one can say Liverpool is a similar circumstance in that aspect.

    • Clampdown says:

      Exactly. Owning the Florida Marlins in a no-win proposition.

      The situation is nowhere near similar for a club with the brand and revenues of Liverpool FC.

  13. Gaz Hunt says:

    This article got mentioned on the Guardian podcast today. That’s something.

  14. dominjon says:

    I believe about 40 million pounds a year was going on P&I payments on the debt. The club usually had 10-20 million made available for transfers. Move the money from the debt paymetns to the transfer budget and suddenly Liverpool can spend 50 million a year. Or enough to hang with the big boys again.

  15. mark searle says:

    well I don’t know much about US sport but what ive seen with hicks is enough to put a lot of Football fans off having US owners. Lets hope for the sake of LFC John W Henry doesn’t blacken the name of US owners any more then the likes of Hicks and Gillet

  16. Don Clark says:

    I agree Miami is not a large baseball town with a team playing in a football stadium. For starters, the weather is hot and humid, very sticky for baseball fans and players without a dome with air conditioning. When the dome is built baseball may do better with attendance. Football is king in the southern states for a reason, its played in the much cooler and milder temperatures of the fall…

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